Mines Regulation and Inspection

Part of the summary from the official Inquiry Report for “Blantyre Colliery Explosion” of 1877. Transcribed by myself word for word for the first time appearing online, this particular detailed section near the end of the report summarises the mines regulation and inspection This preceded their final conclusions and summary, which I’ll post tomorrow.


“A great deal was said and suggested at the inquiry as to the duties of Government inspectors of mines. The matter should therefore be averted too. The regulations for the conduct of mining apparently further than in any other dangerous occupation, unless it be in merchant shipping. In mining, the responsibility rests upon all concerned. But further, the owner, agent and manager, unless they can prove that so far is reasonably practicable the rules have been published and enforced, become answerable not only for their own non compliances, but for those of subordinates and miners. Railway regulations are supposed to be strict, but they fall short of this. The colliery manager is exceptionally responsible, even beyond what some persons qualified to give an opinion upon the subject believe to be just.

“The State endeavours to give effect to the regulations so far is reasonably practicable. It has Inspectors in the districts, and gives publicity to information likely to be instructive for guidance. The responsibility rests as stated. Siftings by Select Committees of the House of Commons, debates in the House, the opinions of those having knowledge of the subject, all agree that it can only centre on the owner, agent, and manager. Repetition on this point may appear tedious. But at times a portion of the public appear to require to be reminded of it. They seek to impose the responsibility upon the Government Inspectors. The magnitude of the mining operations of this country preclude the possibility of any such idea being realised. It requires a large staff acting in the management to carry on a single colliery.

“Under the owner, agent and manager, are oversmen, underlookers, or underviewers, firemen or deputies, or competent persons, engineers, bandsmen, cagers, pit carpenters, and other day wage men under various names, all co-operating , ready to notice, report, or remedy every defect as it occurs. Every miner is also either required by the special rules or is expected to report to his superior anything likely to be dangerous which comes under his notice.

“A direct Inspector of mines has one assistant. In other respects he stands alone. There are hundreds of mines in his district, each with its separate staff of officials and miners, and all co-operating and responsible. Thousands of little things may be conducing to an accident without the possibility of the Inspector knowing anything about them, unless they are communicated. Actual inspection is only one of his many duties. He has to attend to the work of his department and do as much writing besides as falls to the lot of many active clerks. Running through the Act, he has to attend to restrictions as to the employment of women, girls, and boys, registers, school certificates, wages, single shaft restrictions, certificates to managers, returns, fencing shafts at abandoned mines, record plans, annual report, special reports, arbitrations, accidents, inquests, inquiries, ventilation reports, fencing machinery etc; reports as to ventilation, machinery, shaft sides, etc, withdrawals of workmen and of inspection by miners, lighting, blasting, boreholes, engine plane and incline signals and manholes, manholes on horse roads, shaft sides, fencing and fittings, securing roof and sides of workings, chains and ropes, conical drum fittings, breaks indicators, steam boilers, gauges, safety valves, barometers and thermometers, establishment of special rules and publication of them along with the abstract of the Act, prosecutions, office duties.

“Each of these duties arises with regard to mines of underground workings, many of them not half the height of a man. A mine is not like a factory which , when set to work, usually remains much the same from year to year. The mine is constantly on the change. Every ton of mineral sent out tends to alter circumstances. An inspector could not control one of the items enumerated. A thing might become changed long before he had completed his circuit. An army of inspectors could not control the changing circumstances, unless with the powers of managers, and the co-operation of the staff and miners acting under them, in which event the inspector would practically become the manager.

“The miners as a body are an intelligent and unobtrusive class of men. Being constantly exposed to danger they learn to deal cooly with things which would terrify an inexperienced person. They generally know when more than usual danger surrounds. The power which they have of inspection on their own behalf and of inspecting and copying the reports made by those acting in the management, might help to keep matter straight, but their nature apparently rather leads them to confide in those to whom that duty is committed. When they see things going wrong, however, and they think offence might be given by naming it to their superiors, it is a duty which they owe to themselves and those dependent upon the to seek a remedy. The inspector’s name and address is required to be kept posted up at each mine. They may communicate confidentially with him. If matters be not attended to at the critical time, the opportunity for ensuring safety may pass.

“The Inspector of mines of the district and his assistant had visited the Blantyre mine on several occasions prior to the explosion, apparently without finding anything radically wrong, or having any difficulty in getting their views complied with, except as to inducing the men to inspect for themselves. The latest visit of the inspector seems to have been on the 23rd August last, consequent upon an explosion three days previously in which one McInulty lost his life. This visit appear to have been confined to an investigation of that accident. The coming great disaster was not foreseen.”

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